I watched with quivering embarrassment, revulsion and genuine horror, as Brian Cowen, our Taoiseach, waffled on Monday in Tullamore and again yesterday in the Dáil Éireann about the €1.4 million spent by the Court jesters of Bank of Ireland bloating the pension entitlement of their chief executive, the esteemed insider, Mr Boucher. Cowen states that he has no legal power to intervene in this sacred contract between rational parties, but suggests that it would be ‘helpful in public perception terms’ if Boucher refused to accept the bloated pension. Cowen urges public sector workers, who are to vote on a pay freeze of indeterminate duration, that they ‘should see the big picture’. I have no doubt they will and see it very clearly. They will see it in kaleidoscopic clarity.
That, my dear readers, is precisely how the Irish financial system was regulated by flaccid, stuttering, incompetent, bow-legged, politically compromised morons and gobshites, before the economy collapsed from exhaustion in early 2007 with a half million people lost their jobs and everybody’s equity holdings fleeced to near extinction.
The verbal and leadership skills of our regulators and leaders did not move beyond nuanced euphemisms and when combined into paragraphs these looked and sounded as robust as a pre-fabricated hen house in a raging storm.
When a chief executive presides over a company that loses €1.8 billion, equivalent to no less than 98% of its market capitalisation and that loss is substantially attributable to his own decisions, what usually follows is the presentation of a crisp P-45. Very few are presented with a gilded pension allowing them to retire with defined benefits of a magnitude that is beyond the range of most people.
Cowen will down in history as the most dangerous Minister for Finance the country ever had; the Minister who supervised an expansionary credit bubble that has beggared the nation the consequences of which he never understood. As Taoiseach, he presents as a delusionary, curmudgeon who blames everyone but his own ineptitude for what has transpired. and never a word of apology.
His body language and demeanour when referring to Boucher has been as taciturn as might be anticipated had an elderly, blind, poodle piddled beside him on the floor of a convent parlour.
Contract, or no contract, this is a matter of fundamental public interest, morality and moral authority - the Taoiseach's moral authority.
The value of the Bank of Ireland Staff Pension funds are reporting a deficit of over €1.6 billion, a deficit that has increased by over 200% since 2008. The funds' assets are now less than 70% of the present value of future obligations.
If this adverse trend were to continue, even at a more moderate rate of deterioration, there is a real and grave threat that there will not be enough resources to pay Bank of Ireland pensions' in full.
How would Fianna Fail and Green Party candidates feel about canvassing Bank pensioners' in forthcoming elections if they are only receiving forty or fifty percent of the pension payment they are entitled to and personally paid for, against a background of the Taoiseach's apparent indifference to the Boucher gilded pension deal that has been funded from gigantic Bank of Ireland losses and bailout money?